Setting Boundaries Makes Narcissists Take Responsibility for Their Behavior

Written by Angela Atkinson

One of the most commonly shared qualities among victims and survivors of narcissistic abuse is the inability to comfortably set boundaries with other people. This is a primary reason that a narcissist may have targeted you in the first place. Plus, since a large number of narcissistic abuse survivors report they also had a traumatic childhood, they were nearly raised to accept people who actively overstep their boundaries. And, to further complicate the situation, most survivors weren’t even taught they were allowed to set boundaries in the first place.

How do you set boundaries with narcissists? 

To establish healthy boundaries, you need to be clear with your partner who you are, what you want, your beliefs and values, and specifically what your limits are. Narcissists do not allow this. They are known for pushing and stepping on boundaries in order to manipulate and control you more easily. Whether you’re trying to set boundaries with narcissists or with other “healthier” people, you might find yourself struggling. Here is some help with how to set boundaries with narcissists and other difficult people. And here’s a little more advice on how to set boundaries with narcissists.

How do narcissists react when you set boundaries?

Something you’ll notice when you’re setting boundaries for yourself with a narcissist is that it can easily make them uncomfortable. In a lot of ways, due to your typical conflict-avoidant behavior when you’ve been involved with a narcissist, people in your life have become used to no real resistance when it comes to offhanded comments or using others for their advantage. Sadly, even the “non-narcissists” in your life can end up taking advantage of you unintentionally.

But when it comes to narcissists, there’s a whole other side of the coin. When you set boundaries and enforce them, it makes the narcissist take responsibility for their abusive behavior, something that most narcissists absolutely refuse to do. And since your desire to hold firm in your boundaries is very likely new and scary for them, it’ll be very off-putting for them, to put it mildly. This is one of the reasons that boundaries can come off as aggressive at first, even with the non-narcissists around you.

But while you’re only being vaguely defensive, narcissists will take your desire and ability to set boundaries as a personal threat that you’re making them have some actual responsibility for thinking about what they say and do before they do it.

As uncomfortable as it may be for them, though, the non-narcissists in their lives will most definitely get over it and start to learn how to act and treat people with respect. Taking responsibility for your behavior means that you can no longer just do things mindlessly. Narcissists, of course, will never move past it and will either abandon the relationship or do whatever is necessary to mentally push their partners into conforming to their own controlling ways.

Why is it so important to set boundaries in narcissistic abuse recovery?

When you go through narcissistic abuse, you’ll find that your boundaries are actively and aggressively pushed back. Narcissists are notoriously disrespectful of boundaries. While a narcissist seems charming in the beginning, you’ll quickly learn that while you’re expected to fully respect their own boundaries, they will never respect your own.

After all, to respect a boundary would mean that you’d acually have to take people’s feelings and desires into account. This is a pretty realistic expectation for someone to have, and it’s in no way difficult if you just decide to be kind and treat others with respect. But narcissists are known for their lack of empathy and lack of remorse, not to mention that they have famously double standards.

Is it too much to ask someone to respect your boundaries?

To put it briefly: no. Literally anyone and everyone has the basic human right to set their own boundaries, and pretty much everyone has the right to expect their boundaries to be respected.

What happens if I cross someone else’s boundaries? 

It’s very seldom that others have boundaries that you would accidentally cross just by being nice, but if you do, apologize and keep that in mind. These boundaries aren’t just for others to be responsible, though.

Some boundaries also force you to take responsibility and act in a certain way that either benefits you and helps you towards success or helps others. For example, if you set boundaries on yourself for finances, you’re holding yourself accountable for being responsible when it comes to the money you’re spending and how you’re spending it.

It can be uncomfortable for you to hold yourself responsible, but it needs to be done. In the short term, others will be uncomfortable with having to be responsible like this. However, it’s better in the long run for everyone.

By being more conscious and willing to think about what you’re actually doing, everyone will be able to communicate and interact with you in a more satisfying manner. Those who refuse to adapt will be looked down upon, but everyone else will be a lot happier with one another, since this kind of behavior transfers from person to person.

Never Apologize for Having Boundaries in Your Life

The reason most people set boundaries is in order to have a happier and more successful life. But you may end up second-guessing your decision afterward, thinking you were being too harsh and overreacted.

You might find yourself in such a situation, feeling the need to apologize for some reason after setting a boundary, as if it’s your fault that you feel as if you’re not being respected.

That isn’t really the truth. Your feelings are simply a reaction to the situation you’re in, and you have every right to feel the way you do. You should feel good about having boundaries because it’s a very healthy thing to do for yourself.

It’ll be uncomfortable for you at first if you’re used to being passive in your engagements with others, but it’s a change that needs to happen. You’ll have to force yourself to stay firm with these boundaries and be unapologetic in doing so.

It’s important not to seem apologetic about having these boundaries, because otherwise people will keep prodding at you until you break under pressure, and your boundaries collapse.

Never apologizing means that you won’t fold on your boundaries and you won’t even be remotely upset about adhering to them. It goes a lot deeper than just presenting others with a strong demeanor.

You need to genuinely believe that there’s nothing wrong with sticking to the boundaries that you had set in order to improve your life. One thing to avoid when being unapologetic is being aggressive or abrasive.

It’s easy to get carried away in trying to be strong with your boundaries that you actually end up being overly confrontational, and in doing so, you’ll push people away a lot more than you might like – particularly your friends and other loved ones.

If you’re super aggressive about not being apologetic, it can actually undermine your efforts and leave you with less support and more people that don’t like you. Not apologizing is very important so that others won’t look at your boundaries as obstacles they need to overcome.

If you don’t firmly believe in your own boundaries, you can’t expect others to give them the respect that they deserve. Instead, they’ll find ways around it and any effort you made in putting that barrier up will be for nothing.

When it comes to boundaries, people are often surprised at first simply because they don’t expect you to set them. If you encounter someone who really demands that you apologize for having simple things in life like boundaries, chances are that it’s in your best interest to cut off that person as soon as you can.

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